Do our children count?


Here’s an idea. Why don’t we teach our children to count, add and subtract and to multiply? Multiplication tables – now there’s a revolutionary idea.

About 50 years ago a generation of schoolkids decided maths was ‘boring’. They didn’t want to learn it, let alone go on – as the new generation of teachers – to teach it in class. Unlike generations before them, they decided to do something about it, using the Teaching Unions and the powers of social liberation to embed crackpot theories of ‘education’ into the system.

The grotesque consequence is that successive generations have become so useless in the subject that for years, some schools have been forced to ‘bribe’ their best teachers to pick up the maths curriculum book and teach the subject, qualified or not.

Now the OECD has decreed that teaching of maths in the UK is superficial. It is ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. (Nice of them to use the old Imperial measurements to help us understand the depth of the problem).

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD spokesperson on the subject, is not without controversy. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems and while UK educationalists hate every Education Secretary (and occasionally run them out of office, vis Michael Gove), international academics are not too pleased to be told how to teach their children, either.

The Programme of International Student Assessment (Pisa) is run by the OECD as a means of ranking OECD and non-OECD countries on their educational achievements. As you’ll see if you click the Guardian link below, the concept of testing children and ranking schools is unpopular pretty much everywhere (except, strangely, those countries who perform spectacularly well.

But as these arguments rage among those whose livelihood is not even at risk, even for low attainment, generations of British pupils have been let down in the most basic skills of numeracy and literacy.

In case you think we’re overstating the case, we invite you to Google literacy and numeracy standards amongst undergraduates. It is a constant matter of puzzlement as to how, with these problems in hand, tens of thousands manage to pass their A Levels and be accepted at Universities.

So why don’t we try something truly radical? We accept, surely, that not everyone is going to be a physicist, or a mathematician, or a rocket scientist. So perhaps we could drop the conceit that everyone should have a GCSE in Maths.

There will come a point in every pupil’s life when it is clear that their talent is not for numbers. At which point, let them drop the subject and concentrate on something they are good at.

But until that point is reached, the basic tools of counting, adding, subtracting and multiplying should be drummed into them as it used to be. The dimmest boy in the class 50 years ago was likely to be the star of darts night – able to add the score and note the rundown before anyone else could get a calculator turned on.

Sending children out into the world without these basic tools – not to mention similar tools for literacy – is shameful. Time to stop arguing the toss and get back to work.


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Sir Thomas is a pugnacious commentator on political events. No-one escapes his scorn, but he is particularly contemptuous of the Left. Most famously he has said: "Socialism and Communism have been disastrous constructs. But people still keep tinkering. When a lavatory is broken, there's no point tinkering with the plumbing. You just get a new lavatory."